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Akan Artist, Ghana, “Double-Figured Staff Finial”, Late 19th–early 20th century. Wood, brass tacks, white beads, and fiber,19 1/2 × 1 3/4 × 1 3/4 inches. Purchase with funds from Fred and Rita Richman,2009.25, High Museum of Art, Atlanta. © High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

This finial was once situated atop a staff that was used as a portable shrine to commemorate ancestors. 

In Akan culture, ancestors look over their descendents and promote their well-being. The upper, bearded figure represents an ancestral spirit and is seated on a standing male figure’s shoulders, serving as his guide. 

In Baule communities of the Ivory Coast, to be possessed is to have a spirit “fall upon” one. The possessed person is “ridden,” guided by the ancestral spirit.

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Asante Artist, Ghana, “Kente Cloth”, ca. 1900–1925. Silk,38 1/2 x 55 1/2 inches. Purchase with funds from Fred and Rita Richman,2004.166, High Museum of Art, Atlanta. © High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

The brilliantly colorful, geometric patterns of this silk kente cloth fragment express a highly refined, strongly musical aesthetic sensibility that is at once subtle and sublime. 
One red accent floats across a rich field of rhythmically complex patterns in yellow, green, blue, black, and white. An exceptionally fine example of kente cloth, this section is from a much larger cloth called oyokoman adweneasa. Oyokoman is the name of the striped pattern of the ground weave in the warp threads. 
Made primarily of wide, dark red stripes on this cloth, the oyokoman pattern is considered the first and most elite of all kente patterns and has the longest and most complex history.

 

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Asante Artist, Ghana, “Mother and Child Figure”, 20th century. Wood, pigment, beads, and metal, 14 x 5 x 6 1/2 inches, Fred and Rita Richman Collection,1984.302, High Museum of Art, Atlanta. © High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

In Asante communities, mother and child sculptures are placed on the family shrines of both royalty and commoners. 
They serve a protective function while promoting the continuity of the family’s lineage, as Asante inheritance descends through the maternal line. In this statue, the mother feeds her child from her breast while seated on a stool. 
Her elaborate coiffure and jewelry suggest a royal status, indicating that she may be either a priestess or a queen mother—the most senior female of a lineage—seated in state for a formal occasion. 
Her carved sandals further substantiate her elite social position.

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Osei Bonsu (Asante, Ghana, 1900-1977), “Ntan Drum”, Mid-late 1930s. Wood and paint. Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 2011.158, High Museum of Art, Atlanta. © High Museum of Art, Atlanta.